Category Archives: questions

The theatre of dreams

Everything in me wants church to be perfect.

Now, I don’t mean that I want church to perfectly reflect Jesus (although I don’t mean that I don’t mean that) – I mean I want a church service to run perfectly.  For me its one of those things that has both good points and bad points.

I feel quite strongly that when we ‘do’ a church service – worship, prayer,sermon, communion… – we are creating something, if you will.  We are acting and enacting the beauty of the gospel – a sort of drama ‘in the round’ into which we invite people to participate and go away changed.  For that, then, it is important, essential even, that there is a certain ‘slick’ to what is done in order that people can enter into the story without being distracted by clumsy direction or drunken players (metaphorically speaking!).

The danger is that it all becomes something like this…

Nice, huh??

When I studied theatre at University (ha ha – that sounds great, doesn’t it?  It was 2 modules out of 18!) I discovered the term ‘suspension of disbelief‘ which is a principle that the audience in the theatre will willingly overlook the limits of the medium in order to enjoy and follow the show.  For example – the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet – Juliet’s balcony is at best made out of wood or fibreglass and is just one wall rather than a whole building; those realities would somewhat spoil the romance of the scene.  Or the final scene in ‘Juno and the Paycock‘ where Johnny get shot – they are not likely to actually shoot the actor nor even have real guns on stage – but if someone were to point that out, the tragedy would be somewhat compromised.  See?

But in church, we’re not suspending disbelief, we’re engaging belief, we’re enacting belief, we’re revelling in what we believe.  Part of what we believe is that we are NOT perfect and that is why the gospel is good – because it is God who is working in us to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:13b).  It is for this reason then, that church cannot and should not be “perfect” and in fact, if there is no room for us in our human imperfection, there is no room for the gospel and no room for God and therefore is not church at all, but rather just a play.

What do we do then?  How do we console those who cringe at lengthy, garbled announcements?  How do we heal those who go mad at out of tune music or non-responsive singing?  How do we encourage those who would rather send their friends who are curious about church to the bigger, slicker ‘cooler’ church in the city?

Speaking of wanting to invite friends who are interested in church to our own church…  What is our obsession with wanting ‘church’ to be cool?  Let’s be honest, the music could be perfect, the sermon spot-on in terms of relevant, the people might even be the most welcoming people on earth but the essence of what church is is just weird!  We can’t hide it!  We’re completely counter-cultural – in a good way to us if we’re reflecting Jesus at all, but probably just plain weird to your average Joe on the street.  How do we know that the very flaws in our church won’t be the very thing God uses to open our friends heart to Him?!

A question : How do we best honour God in re-enacting his story through church without pushing him out of it?

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I’m not angry… Just disappointed.

Not many people know this, but I used to play the double bass.

Now, when I say I used to ‘play’ the double bass, really I mean I used to get lessons on the double bass.  These things are very different.  But seriously, give a nine year old an instrument twice their height and tell them rather than taking that instrument home to practice that they have to forgo their school breaktime to practice instead and you tell me how successful that will be…?

But that’s not the point.

The point is, I didn’t practice.  And when I didn’t practice it meant that the old lessons with Mrs Coleslaw didn’t go very well.  Then when I went to high school and took lessons with Mrs Basher, those didn’t go very well either.  Both ladies were grumpy and frowny and frankly terrifying.  To this day I’m not sure if it is a requirement for double bass teachers to be able to shout at ear-splitting levels and to wither your liver with one look…  Their shouting and looking – as terrifying as it was – weren’t the most dreaded response to my inability to match the notes on the score to finger-positioning and lack of practice.  The phrase I dreaded most in response to my eyes-down confession of 5 minutes practice a week was “I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”

EUGH.

Even now it sends shudders down my spine and plants anvils in my gut!

Undoubtedly you have your own experience of these kind of traumatic guilt-inducing childhood memories?  Or perhaps it was just me.  But anyway…

In the last couple of years in listening to Darrell Johnson teaching the gospel of John I have been interested in the concept of ‘zoe’ the Greek word for life of the spiritual kind rather than ‘bios’ as life in the biological kind of way.  C.S Lewis also talks about it in ‘Mere Christianity’.  I won’t try and explain it all here, but suffice to say that it made me think think along the lines of Jesus saying that he came that we might have ‘life (zoe) in all its fullness’ and that therefore all the things we turn to apart from him (ie sin) steals zoe from us.

For me, this perspective on sin helps me understand that it is not that God is some sort of cosmic spoilt child who, because he didn’t get his way, wreaks havoc in his judgement on our sin.  But that rather, God wants us to know and live the life he had always intended for us so sent Jesus to do the whole life-death-resurrection-ascension thing so we can be free from sin and death and hell.

SO… by trusting in Jesus I am sorted and that life (zoe) is mine.  Except… I’m not very good at practising.  I still muck around with my sin mud pies: holding on to grudges, serving myself over others, discontent and grumbling…

If I am talking to someone who says something similar of themselves, I feel that in that context the way forward is not to preach fear tactics; not to tell the person that those sins make God angry and that he punishes and disciplines them.  My tactics would be to point out that those things steal true life from us, that they ruin ‘shalom’ and why would we want anything to do with them? to encourage them that true life and beauty dwells in following the way God says to go. ‘Whoever lays down his life for me and for the gospel will find it!’  God wants so much more for us than that!

Except… Somewhere in all of this I suddenly got the feeling that the trajectory of all this could lead to that same feeling from my childhood neglect of the double bass.  I mean, can you imagine…? Standing before the judgement throne of the infinite creator of all things seen and unseen, realising in full the absolute and utter idiocy and ugliness and emptiness of all those things you mucked around with in your earthly life, clinging to and claiming the name of Jesus and the voice of the Almighty booms those dreaded words:

“I’m not angry… Just disappointed.”

I’m sure there are many smarter people out there who can punch holes all over that and who can identify what my issues and misunderstandings are.  To clarify – that’s not really how I believe God will react when we finally get to the point of hanging out forever, I’m more just trying to work out why I was reminded of the Mrs Coleslaw and Basher when thinking about this stuff the other day.  So please feel free to help!

But it also took me back to some pub theology about right and wrong as verbally-processed from this soapbox.  Does our obsession about right/wrong behaviour mean that we miss a bigger picture?  Does our measuring of our sinful/righteous responses to life’s circumstances mean that we’re trying to ‘keep a balance’ when life with God (zoe) isn’t anywhere near a set of scales?!?

Eugh… I just don’t know!  What do you think?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” Isaiah 30:15

Later…

Just read something this morning that is interesting in regards to this stuff.  The author pointed out that in leading someone in prayer to come to know Jesus, we only lead them in repenting of sin and not renouncing sin.  This reduces ‘sin’ to our thoughts and actions as opposed to an all-encompassing force which enslaves and destroys… Helpful perhaps?

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An interesting read…

Thanks to hoveactually for linking to this…

Models of Masculinity

An interesting and timely addition to my thoughts and blog-musings…

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Conveyor Belt Christianity

Its been a while since I’ve posted anything particularly controversial.  And, if I’m honest – I’m not really all that fond of controversy – its a bit scary.  Particularly when people can take it and use one thing to mean a whole bunch of stuff that you don’t…  But I wrote the following post a while ago and saved it until such time as I felt like posting it.  Its not a definitive statement so much as a series of questions and ponderings around an issue often perused in my small corner…

Now, I’m not claiming to have this all right, nor am I claiming to have thought it all through perfectly… But…

Teaching young men that they are to bulk up and become strong leaders of family, of church, of the world does not, in my humble opinion, teach grace.  Affirming the male stereotype of being in control, having the last word, not stopping to ask for directions is insidious and unhelpful. “Come on boys, just try harder…”

It just doesn’t sound like Jesus.

It seems to me that even if the ‘complementarian different-but-equals’ are right, their view of equality is somewhat skewed.  If their view of equality is in any way close to actually being equality, it is often undermined by how it all plays out.  I had dinner with a family from this theological standpoint – my opinion on a certain matter was not so much shot down as flatly ignored whilst the wife was ‘jokingly’ told to get back to the kitchen.  If the role of a woman in the home is really truly considered so important, I don’t understand how making disparaging remarks about tying her to the sink is respectful of this ‘god-given’ role?  Humour does nothing to build up, but belittles and trivialises tasks that countless women have devoted their lives to for years.  On top of that, most women just roll their eyes and take it, laughing along – many for fear of being ridiculed for expressing any concern at the injustice of it, many not even recognising the disrespect of it.

In a country where many struggle against the flow of culture to create a right sense of identity as a child of God, many young men are drawn to the most confident voice proclaiming the most comfortable suit of armour to don.

“A real man takes responsibility, a real man leads, a real man pees standing up…”

I’m not saying that a man shouldn’t be responsible, nor that women should be the ultimate authority, I’m saying there’s very little room for true community, true body-of-Christ community.  “Me Hand.  Me make fire.  Me Big Boss.  You be like Me.”

It just doesn’t sound like Jesus.

conveyorbelt-730579It sounds like conveyor-belt Christianity – “No, no – don’t be like you, be like me.”  It happens all over the Church in all sorts of areas with all sorts of implications.  I suppose its easier to rubber stamp ourselves with the image of others than to wait on the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.



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MY Part in the ‘What’ and the ‘How’ of Discipleship

There’s been a bit of chat of late about discipleship, in a ‘following Jesus’ kind of way.  The definition of what it is has been in discussion over at Transfarmer‘s corner and by extension, how it is done.  MY questions follow on from that…

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A significant temptation as a ‘professional’ Christian (along with flashing your vast wads of cash…) is to allow the desire to see people change as they grasp the truth about God to become confused with the desire to see people change as they grasp the truth about God from what we teach them.

In fact, its maybe not so much a temptation as an everyday hazard of the job.

The thing is… it is God who changes us, isn’t it?  Its a bit like leading worship in a way – you can prepare are the beautiful songs and music and readings and prayers you want, but unless God shows people’s hearts something of himself, then a worship leader is just singing a nice wee song and sometimes not even that!  But when your heart longs to see people impacted by Jesus, plus the added pressure of it kinda sorta being a big part of your full-time job you it feels extra specially important that you do it well.

I want to be assured that my ‘methods’ of relating to people, discipling people, teaching people are the best and most effective for spurring change and growth.  I want to know that I’m saying the right things, doing the right things to show people the absolute beauty of the gospel of Jesus.  I want them to see it, taste it, live it, breathe it…

The Spirit of God is at work in me and therefore there is goodness and truth and purity in my motives, but I’m still in a world affected by sin, so there are selfish reasons as to why I want to get it right.  I want to be able to compare myself with those who’ve gone before and those who will come behind and feel that I measure up just as well as (or better than) them.  Oh! for the day we can look at each other in contentment and joy in the display of the multi-coloured, much-varied, manifold wisdom of God in the tapestry of His church!

So anyway… let’s assume for a minute that my motives are spotless and think about this.  Discipleship.  Are there methods to the madness?  What are those ‘difficult questions’ that so many claim they need to be asked?  What does ‘being intentional’ really look like?  Okay, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, but surely there must be some principles somewhere to work from?

Really my question is this: If true change is brought about by the Holy Spirit, how do I BEST play my part in facilitating that work?  Any suggestions?

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Second Rate: A year on

Its been a little over a year since I first blogged about my fear of being Second Rate and about 18 months since my heart first broke about the issues surrounding the role of women in the church.

Its been a long, slow journey which is far from being over, but one that I feel strangely content to be on.

The initial fear of not being what I should be and a resulting wavering in my confidence about the character of God still visit me from time to time.  The pain I feel over generations of gifted women being judged, excluded and made to doubt their worth continues to throb deep within me  and I’ve realised that that is regardless of which side of ‘the debate’ (or kerfuffle!) they reflect.

The pain, the tears, the conversations… I have been pushed to think through something which is a crucial issue to my life journey in more ways than I ever would have imagined.  The battle to walk alongside the high horse as opposed to climbing up on it or lying down under it is never far below the surface.  When I meet certain people, hear certain jokes, encounter certain issues, there is a struggle not to judge, exclude or hurt; a struggle to take each person as an individual whose ideas about one thing does not automatically mean they think the other, a person to know rather than a debate to avoid; a struggle to root myself in what God says rather than what others think of me.  I need constant reminders that the goal is to love, not to prove that I am right.  To love and serve Jesus, to glorify him – make the character of Yahweh known – in everything I am, just as He did.

As the journey goes on, I am more convinced that my footprints are not alone on this path.  I am more confident in the harmonies I’m singing in the great choir.  I am more concreted in the love my Father has for me…

But there’s still a long way to go.

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242 Days

“Its been eight months,” he said.

“Eight months?” she replied. “Gosh, time flies.”

“Its 242 days, actually.”

242 days of life without his wife.

 

I wonder how long it takes before you stop counting.

 

 

 

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Choose Your Own Adventure

1. Your ship is sinking… Do you…?

a) Jump ship, you have no obligation to stay.  Go to #7

b) Stick around, but deny the fact that you’re all sinking.  Do your drills, make the calls, carry on regardless.  Go to #2

c) Do everything you can to make things better for those on board.  Go to #4

2. Water is starting to seep through the cracks.  Do you…?

a) Start carrying a mop around to tidy away the mess before anyone sees.  Be sure to smile and nod a lot. Go to #3

b) Start screaming “We’re sinking!!!” at the top of your voice.  The sooner everyone knows they’re in trouble the better.  In fact, the more drama you make, the more sympathy you’ll get.  Go to #4

3. The mop isn’t working anymore and your feet are getting wet.  Do you…?

a) Pretend that everything’s normal – this is actually what sailing is meant to be like. Go to #6

b) Start blaming other people for the situation and make sure everyone knows its not your fault. Go to #4

c) Face up to the fact that things might be changing and start taking realistic stock of the situation.  Go to #5

4.  People are starting to see that this ship won’t make its destination.  Do you…?

a) Ignore their questions about the escape plan and say ‘I told you so’ until the bitter end. Go to #6

b) Stay out of trouble, find a lifeboat and get outta there while you still can.  Go to #7

c) Quietly make preparations for evacuation.  Buckle up your lifebelt, talk people through the procedures and show them the lifeboats.  Go to #8.

5. Start showing people the lifeboats and do what you can to make to make the transition to the evacuation procedure easier.  Go to #8

6. Salute and go down with the ship.  A slow and painful ‘Game Over’.

7. Game over.  Your heart is still beating, though others weren’t so lucky.  Find another ship, you’ve still got places to go.

8. You’ve done all you can to execute a successful escape plan, now its time to go.  Don’t worry about going down with the ship – its nothing but an empty shell of wood and stuff – the most important thing is the Destination.

 

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Bloggy and the Beast: Will the real Small Corner please stand up?

iheartwordpresssign.jpg

 

Aaahh, WordPress – how I adore thee!

I spent some time this afternoon expostulating about the benefits of WordPress over other blog service providers.  I did it with such passion I could’ve been preaching life or death!  It is perhaps a little sad (how did people ever describe that concept of sad before ‘sad’ came to mean anything other than unhappy?!?) that I care so much about my small corner of the internet and how it looks and functions, but I AM NOT ASHAMED!  I will stand loud and proud, declaring my love of all things blog.

Just don’t link to my page in case anyone I know reads it…

Hmmm… a strange thing, perhaps, to be rather choosy about to whom one discloses the details of where one publishes one’s contribution to the community we call ‘Blogging’, but I am reluctant that anyone and everyone should know where to find my online voice.

I suppose its mildly ridiculous in many ways, because a blog is hardly a private affair: random strangers from all over the world can tune in to my latest ‘un-intellectual musings’ (I stand by that, Mr Zoom – you can take it up with me later) at the click of a button.  Also, how many people in the actual real world of my life spend much time reading blogs?!?  Not many (enough, but not many)!  AND, even if they read blogs, it is, perhaps, arrogant to assume they would put much thought into reading what I’ve written…

The Beauty of blogging, you see, is the sheer pleasure of expression: finding exactly the right word in exactly the right place to convey exactly the right tone… its an ART!  Then of course the pleasure of reading the rants, stories and thoughts of others who are, if not similarly minded – at least similarly appreciative of the craft:  creating dialogue from monologue, banter from battle and in many tiny steps ultimately plotting to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!

The Beast, however, is my fear is that people will judge me  solely by what they read here and that they will judge me to be something worse that what I already am.  For someone who has recently yelled: “ENOUGH!  I am DONE with worrying what people think of me!” I’m pretty worried about what people think of me.  Someone told me that once you hit forty you get over such fear because you’re more confident in who you are.  Someone else said it was because senile dementia begins to set in…

two_faced_cover.jpgYou see, the thing is… its not that what I choose to publish online is a different persona than that which I project in life and work – that I lie or falsify myself in either area.  But I guess I’m just wary of publicising the fact that some of my thoughts have made it into written form and are emblazoned across the Web because, in a sense, its only one part of me.  A part that can be held up and spread around out of context (if anyone actually could be bothered doing so!).

I’ve heard it said that “who you are when you’re alone is who you really are”.  I could be being rather hasty (it happens when you think ‘out loud’), but… b*ll*cks.  Maybe even with a capital ‘B’, but I’m not sure yet…  Surely different situations bring out different parts of your personality in a way which is neither false nor schizophrenic?

So, for example, if I’m with my best friend, I’m laid-back, blunt as a sledge hammer and sometimes ridiculously silly; if I’m with students, I’m more upbeat, phrase my sentences more carefully (sometimes!) and am generally more pragmatic; if I’m with older people from church I’m more measured, thoughtful and serious; and on my blog I’m much more flippant and articulate (its all relative, huh?!).

Which one of those people is the real me?  Surely all of them!?  I am not a two-dimensional character… I am a person, created in the image of Yahweh, and I cannot be summed up by the examination of one part of my life and to do so is to judge wrongly.

Is that what we do when we judge people?  We only look at one (maybe even two or three) ‘parts’ of a person and come to a conclusion, put them in a box and sit back with our arms folded smugly thinking we know them.  We look down on people’s insecurities because we don’t take the time to understand why they act or feel the way they do; we gossip about one thing someone once did without making the effort to find out why; we give up talking with someone we’ve known ‘inside out’ for a long time because we don’t recognise that their thoughts, opinions, dreams, desires, likes and dislikes are fluid and don’t fit inside the box we built any more.

That, I suppose is why only God can judge – He truly knows us inside out, upside down, right side up and back to front.  He sees all our ways, thoughts and actions all of the time.

I’m not saying that we can’t be false – just that when we’re different with different people its not always as deceptive as we think; nor is it something to get hung up on. Where is the line…?  I’ll leave that to you to conclude (or perhaps to the Jewish World Review?).

So, who is the real Small Corner…?

I am.

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Another (similar) Kerfuffle…

Not wishing to diminish the impact of my announcement of The Great Crash of January 2008, but just something for those with some time on their hands to consider and wrap up neatly for those of us who take much longer to form an opinion…? 

At a friend’s house for dinner the other night, she drew to my attention a Kerfuffle within the Presbyterian Church which the Belfast Telegraph have been reporting on over the past few weeks.

The crux of it is that one minister (male) refused to let another (female) preach in ‘his’ pulpit at a joint Christmas service.  The event of a joint service between these two churches in the same town has been happening for years and years, but only recently has the female minister been installed at the church.

Some interesting questions raised by both journalists and citizens who wrote in.  The following are in date order.

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The earliest article I could find (kind of ugly, but later articles paint a different picture of the lady’s reaction).

Regrets expressed over inability to find compromise.

The ‘unholy row’ – call for consistency within Presbyterian Church policy.

Some comments from the Moderator

Letter of support

Journalist (and choir member) opinon – quite random, done in context of the new Irish Presby hymn book!christinab_262288d.jpg

“I will not back down”

Letter of disappointment with how the situation has been handled. 

More general article on the challenge facing the Church in secular society.

… 

You see, randomly enough – this stuff makes me think about the should-have-been post on the blame-claim culture RE The Great Crash of January 2008 (my neck’s doing well, thanks)…

Larger questions about the assertion of ‘rights’ by Christians.  Jesus gave up his rights to defend himself and was pretty selective in the battles he fought, right?  So how do we know when to stand up and fight and when to make sacrifices or put up with losing face?

Much wisdom, grace and love required methinks.  Especially in current politically correct culture.

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